Venice’s Final Cut Celebrates 10 Years of Discoveries

Final Cut, a workshop supporting films in post-production from African and Arab countries – launched by the Venice Film Festival’s industry section, Venice Production Bridge – celebrates its 10th anniversary this week.

Its goals have remained the same, however, as it continues to provide emerging filmmakers with concrete assistance as well as visibility, all the while strengthening Venice’s role as “bridge builder,” says Alessandra Speciale, its curator. The final selection features titles made by directors from nine different countries: Algeria, Jordan, Guinea, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Central African Republic and Tunisia.

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This year, two additional projects were added to the usual six work-in-progress films, thanks to the France in Focus initiative, supported by Unifrance: Karim Bensalah’s debut “Black Light,” sold internationally by The Party Film Sales, and “The Cemetery of Cinema,” directed by Thierno Souleymane Diallo and marking Guinea’s first presence at the workshop.

Diallo, who has been working on his documentary since 2016, will focus on finding “Mouramani”: a lost film, reportedly directed by Mamadou Touré in 1953.

“We don’t know if it really existed, we don’t know if it’s just a legend. Nobody does!,” says Speciale, pointing out that the film’s ending can go both ways. If he finds it, Diallo will organize a special screening in Conakry. If he doesn’t, he will just shoot his own version.

“It’s one of the oldest industry programs in Venice at this point,” she adds, recalling Final Cut’s humble beginnings.

“[Venice chief] Alberto Barbera was interested in that kind of cinema and we decided to create something, the first program dedicated exclusively to African and Arab cinema. For many of these films, it’s their first step into the international market.”

Over the years, Final Cut has welcomed the likes of Alain Gomis, Tala Hadid, Kaouther Ben Hania, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese and Karim Ainouz. “Captains of Za’atari,” shown at Sundance, Cannes title “Under the Fig Trees” and “Hanging Gardens,” awarded last year and now making its way to Venice’s Horizons Extra, all debuted there.

“At first, the filmmakers and the producers were scared of showing their projects in such a fragile state. But little by little, they saw what we could offer,” she says, also noting some changes.

“This year, we received 58 films. Most of them come from Arab countries.”

Pascal Diot, head of Venice Production Bridge, also comments on the MENA region’s growing momentum.

“We see new players coming in, for example from Saudi Arabia. They invest a lot in development and production, not only when it comes to feature films, but also immersive content, which we focus a lot on in Venice. Unfortunately, in Africa, things haven’t changed that much.”

While the Red Sea International Film Festival will offer a new prize in cash this year, “Inshallah a Boy” will also be shown. Amjad Al Rasheed’s debut is a co-production between Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It will focus on a widow at risk of losing everything – just because she doesn’t have a son.

“This film is a pearl. It will have a wonderful festival run, I am sure of that,” says Speciale.

But trying to keep the balance between works from sub-Saharan Africa and Arab films, fiction films and documentaries while also paying special attention to female and up-and-coming directors is crucial, she observes.

“Something is moving in Africa too, but very, very slowly. There aren’t enough resources, but you can still find new talents there,” she says, mentioning “beautiful” doc “The Burden” by Elvis Sabin Ngaïbino about a couple with a heartbreaking secret. His first feature “Makongo” bowed at Final Cut in 2019.

“I want to make a film about religion without judgement, without condescension. I want to make a film about miracles,” observed the helmer.

“It may make you smile, it may seem naive or silly. But that’s what I want to do. Great Christian filmmakers have tackled this before me: Bresson, Dreyer or Rossellini. Each in their own way showed us miracles.”

While, as noted by Diot, more distributors, especially from Europe, are now interested in Final Cut’s offerings, the initiative still caters mostly to the arthouse and festival circuit.

“What is changing, however, is that I see South African series performing very well in the world. Netflix and other streamers are helping them find bigger audiences. They understood the importance of local productions,” he adds.

Afef Ben Mahmoud and Khalil Benkirane’s “Backstage,” about a dance troupe life, Myriam El Hajj’s Beirut-set documentary “Suspended” and Kamal Aljafari’s “A Fidai Film” round up this year’s selection alongside “Land of Women” by Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir, where a group of girls forms an all-female street theater troupe in a conservative Egyptian village.

“It’s a coming-of-age story, but it’s also a reflection on becoming an adult woman in Egypt. The struggle of trying to keep your dream alive,” says Speciale.

The event will take place from Sept. 3 – 5.

First Feature
(Morocco, Tunisia, Belgium, Qatar, France, Norway)
Dir. Afef Ben Mahmoud and Khalil Benkirane
Main production company: Lycia Productions
The contemporary dance company is just about to end their Moroccan tour with a final performance in Marrakesh. During their penultimate show, Aida provokes Hedi, her partner on and off the stage. He injures her in front of the other members of the troupe.

“Black Light”
First Feature
(France, Algeria, Qatar)
Dir. Karim Bensalah
Main production company: Tact Production
After failing his exams, an Algerian student living in France, is threatened with deportation. To avoid this fate, he finds work in a Muslim funeral home and his life changes. Struggling with his identity, spending time with the dead helps him find his way back into the light.

“The Burden”
(Central African Republic, France, Congo)
Dir. Elvis Sabin Ngaïbino
Main production company: Makongo Films
Rodrigue and Reine are a close-knit couple who are very involved in the activities of their church. But they live with a terrible secret: they are both sick with AIDS, a disease they secretly carry as a divine punishment.

“The Cemetery of Cinema”
First Feature
(France, Senegal, Guinea)
Dir. Thierno Souleymane Diallo
Main production company:
The director travels throughout Guinea in search of “Mouramani” by Mamadou Touré, the first film made by a Black African francophone in 1953, using his camera to confront history.

“A Fidai Film”
(Germany, Palestine, Qatar)
Dir. Kamal Aljafari
Main production company: Kamal Aljafari Productions
In the summer of 1982, the Israeli army occupied Beirut; soon after, they raided the Palestinian Research Center, tearing it up and carting away its library containing 25,000 volumes on Palestine – one of the world’s largest collections on Palestinian history.

“Inshallah a Boy”
First Feature
(Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar)
Dir. Amjad Al Rasheed
Main production company: The Imaginarium Films
In an oppressive tradition toward women’s heritage, the widowed Nawal is at risk of losing her home, as she doesn’t have a son. She finds herself on a journey to fight for what should be her right, even if she breaks her morality and traditions.

“Land of Women”
(Egypt, France, Denmark)
Dir. Nada Riyadh
Main production company: Felucca Films
In a conservative village in the south of Egypt, dominated by patriarchy and full of despair, a lively group of Coptic girls refuse the traditional roles forced upon them by forming an all-female street theater troupe. A coming-of-age portrait of girls at the crossroads of their lives.

(Lebanon, France, Qatar)
Dir. Myriam El Hajj
Main production company: Abbout Productions
Using weapons, voting booths or the streets of Beirut. These are the choices of Georges, Joumana and Perla Joe. Three generations with the same desire to change a sick country: Lebanon. They are faced with a dilemma: save the world or save their skin?

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